What is a Definition Essay? A Complete Guide to the Definition Essay

What is a Definition Essay? A Complete Guide to the Definition Essay

A definition essay is a form of academic writing used to describe, define, and analyze key terms and phrases. It is often used in literature classes to discuss major themes and motifs in texts. It can also be used to explore historical eras, philosophical concepts, or social and political movements. In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about how to write a definition essay — from deciding what topic you want to explore to choosing your approach.


What is a definition essay?

A definition essay is a type of essay that requires you to define a word or phrase. You can be given a word or phrase to define, or you can choose a word or phrase for yourself. Definition essay topics generally fall into the categories of literature or language, but there are some other areas where you can find definition essay topics.

In a definition essay, you and your peers use the following approaches:

Depending on the topic you choose to explore, you might focus on one or two small words or phrases. Or, you might look at a huge swath of words and phrases. While your lists are popular, using bullet lists can help keep your explanations brief and focused.

Either way, you’ll need to write a detailed essay about your idea or discovery.

The form of your essay may vary widely. You should read widely and deeply before you write your definition essay, but keep it simple.

To create a solid definition, you should know what you are looking for. And there are some commonly used words and phrases that you’ll encounter as you explore various topics in history, philosophy, popular culture, or life.

Before you write your definition, you need to know who you are writing for. Think about the goals you have in mind when thinking about the style and content of your essay. You can try to write your definition for a class or to present it privately to a close friend or colleague.

Once you’ve decided who you are writing for, think about how you can best provide the information your reader needs. There are many options that you can explore to find different viewpoints.

Slant reflects the viewpoints of writers who exercise their unique styles, ranging from the classical to the contemporary. Whereas I prefer to use straight-forward language, my colleagues and students appreciate slanted writing because they allow you to highlight the unique voices of some of history’s most notable figures.

In defining a word or phrase, consider what the word or phrase means and the context in which you are using it.


How to choose a topic for your definition essay


There are a few steps you can follow to choose a topic for your definition essay: 1) 

  1. Think about the topic you’re interested in. 
  2.  Think about what aspects of the topic you’d like to write about. Take a look at this website for some ideas: 
  3. Determine what other definitions already cover that topic. 

You can read articles with popular definitions by going to the main definition article on our list or check out some of the more popular definitions on Quora. You can also check out the Wikipedia article about the topic and create a list of your favorite elements of the popular articles. For more ideas on other versions of this topic, check out article prompts and examples from organizations like American Heritage — Gap.

Once you’ve made a decision about what topic you want to write about, you can begin to create your outline and research. 

Remember to take into account the writing environment you’ll be working in. When researching popular definitions, instead of scrolling to the end of the article, check out the Q&A section near the end. 

Usually, contributors to popular definitions will answer a few questions for your grade level or read a passage from the article, which makes the entire article much more user-friendly.

Once you have your outline, take it through all of the steps in this section, identifying key sections, subtopics, and flash cards. 

Remember to include essays of different levels and styles of writing in each section. Students can check out some samples here. Generally, it’s best to do your outline first and then write your drafts in reverse order. While it’s useful to periodically revisit your ideas, you don’t want to waste your time writing something you don’t have time to revise. 

Read through the outline again to see if anything stands out, missing anything, or is needlessly complicated. Review your own draft and change anything that seems unnecessary or appears tactless.


How to find sources for your essay


When you’re choosing your sources, it’s important that they’re reliable. If you’re finding your scholarly sources online, then make sure that they’re from a reliable website, like a national newspaper or news source, a magazine, or even a company’s website. When you’re writing your definition essay, keep in mind three major points:

To begin with, we define a given term.

In your research, check to make sure that everyone involved agreed on a definition. You don’t want to offend anyone, and you also don’t want to restrict your research to a narrow subject matter. If you need to write more than one essay on a single topic, it might be best to have one group define the terms. While you could do this together, there are several advantages to having separate definitions to avoid confusion.

When writing your definition, try to follow standard academic writing styles for syntax and grammar. We recommend using a structured writing style as explained in the APA Stylebook.

Here are the three main sections you should organize your essay around:

When you come to the end of this article, you should have an essay plan for your definition essay that tells you how to structure your research, illustrate it, write the introduction, summarize it, and provide a summary for the final section.

The introduction is an important part of your definition essay. It helps tell your readers what problem you want to address and how it fits into a larger framework. You might choose to aim for brevity if you’re writing a dissertation, or you might want to include specific details or figures to truly bring your idea to life.


How to organize and structure your essay


A definition essay is a type of essay that describes and defines a word, a phrase, an object, a concept, a place, a person, or an event. The most important thing to remember when writing a definition essay is to include a clear and concise definition of the word and then to back up your definition with specific examples or evidence.

For example, in this essay, you’ll find the step-by-step process I followed for writing the word “pivot.” This is the definition I created in MindNode:

The pivot is an institutionalized habit that allows a company to take a specific course of action in response to shifts in consumer or market demand. A pivot is an automated process that obtains new data and analyses it in order to provide a clearly defined profile of consumer trends or buying behavior.

Next, you’ll find one example sentence that follows the definition in MindNode and explains how this form of a definition essay can be used in an academic essay. After that, I provide the citation for the MindNode definition and a link to the full text of the definition.

Investing in an essay is more than investing in a topic, writing styles, formatting, and grammar rules. You also need to invest in your time and in your thoughts. When I was planning my definition essay on pandemic definition, this is the checklist I created to help me structure my thoughts and ideas.

Unlike writing for a blog or an article, you won’t find much guidance on writing a definition essay for academic content — as if it doesn’t exist.

This is because definition essays are typically not part of an academic certificate program for literature or language studies students, and they are not part of an older, established form of academia.

Instead, the first step in writing a definition essay for an academic audience is to go back to your original content and consider what you can do to make it more comprehensive and useful.


How to begin writing your definition essay

 In the first paragraph, introduce yourself and your topic. 

After that, In the second paragraph, introduce the two sides of the argument and explain the side you’re going to be arguing for. 

In the third paragraph, present a bulleted list of reasons to support your side. 

Finally, In the fourth paragraph, present a bulleted list of reasons to support the other side. Use keywords only if your concept is unique or applies only to a small subculture. If your essay is long, consider using other people’s words as an introduction to describe how you formed your concept. Consider using the keywords in the first three paragraphs only if your idea is extremely broad or general in nature.

Read through this article, and notice how I describe key terms and phrases to show my meaning.

Every essay has two sides. Which side do you want to communicate?

Adequate: This person believes that child abuse is a significant problem in our society. They believe it’s important to raise awareness about it while still protecting children. It would be better if the police and government worked together to prevent it so that fewer children are abused. They support long-term solutions and advocacy.

Adequate-ish: This person believes that child abuse is a problem. They believe society should continue to protect children while also taking action to prevent abuse. They would prefer legislation that: 

(a) makes it illegal to intentionally harm a child; 

(b) provides for judges to consider the impact of child abuse on the victim when determining sentences.

Appropriate: This person believes that child abuse is a problem, but they believe that society should ensure that it doesn’t happen in the first place. They believe better policies and programs are in place to protect children. They avoid creating long-term solutions and focus on focusing on advocacy and safety measures. People with an appropriate perspective are advocates and understand that long-term change is necessary to prevent abuse.

Please remember that not all sides can be represented equally.

In your essay, you have the opportunity to clearly define the terms and phrases you will be discussing.


A definition essay can be used to explore just about any topic, from the history of a movement to the literary significance of a text. It can be persuasive or informative; it’s up to you to decide how you want to approach it. This guide will help you make that decision, and get started writing your own definition essay!

For essay writing help online, place your order now. 


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